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It harvests phone numbers from real online sex ads, and automatically sends messages to sex workers offering support or assistance getting out of the trade.
Responses are routed to an experienced nonprofit employee or volunteer.
The National Human Trafficking Hotline received more than 5,000 reports of sex trafficking in 2016, but most cases are believed to go unreported.
Project Intercept’s lead partner, Seattle Against Slavery, is working with counterparts in 21 other U. cities, including Boston and Houston, to deploy the bot more widely.
Last summer, the volunteers began thinking about bots, after Microsoft launched a bot-building toolkit aimed at automating customer service.
Limitations of the software have produced mixed results for businesses, but the deter-o-bot has proven good enough at its job.“It helps that the guys who are buying sex are not paying much attention to the human being on the other end of the phone,” says Beiser, of Seattle Against Slavery.
Don’t expect the Microsoft tools to make a huge dent in demand overnight.
I listened to Kate Darling, from MIT Media Lab, speak at the Interaction 16 conference in Helsinki last month.
Kate told us how we naturally anthropomorphize robots even when they haven’t been designed for that – we give them names and funerals, we laugh when they make mistakes, and we become angry if someone “hurts” them, like in the case of the Boston Dynamics Spot dog or the friendly hitchhiking robot, Hitch Bot.
“Wasting their time and delivering a deterrence message could change their perspective on what they’re doing.”Project Intercept was started in 2012 by two Microsoft employees after seeing a documentary about sex trafficking, .
“I thought we should be able to use the things that we work with every day to help,” says Greg, a senior product manager at Microsoft, who asked not to disclose his last name to avoid recriminations from people involved in the sex trade.